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Plea alleges Public Charitable Hospital demanded exorbitant fee for COVID-19 treatment from slum dwellers: Bombay HC directs enquiry

The plea filed for seven slum dwellers against the KJ Somaiya Hospital and Research Centre states that “Under the pretext of treatment, unnecessary high charges were imposed on the slum dweller Petitioners."

Meera Emmanuel

The Bombay High Court on Friday directed State authorities to enquire into allegations that a public charitable hospital in Mumbai, the KJ Somaiya Hospital and Research Centre, had charged exorbitant fees for COVID-19 treatment in a petition moved by seven slum dwellers (Abdul Shoeb Shaikh and ors. v. State of Maharashtra and ors).

The State of Maharashtra, its Health Department and the Charity Commissioner have been asked to make submissions on the following aspects:

  • whether the hospital trust is liable to reserve 10% beds in its hospital for economically weaker sections of the society and if so, on what terms and conditions.

  • whether such conditions are strictly fulfilled by the hospital or not during the period of the lock-down or otherwise.

The order passed by the Bench of Justices RD Dhanuka and Madhav J Jamdar also specifies that this enquiry is to be conducted under the personal supervision of the learned Charity Commissioner. An affidavit containing the enquiry report is to be filed by June 19.

The petitioners have claimed that exorbitant bills were raised by the public charitable trust hospital for COVID-19 treatment undergone by them over a three week period between April 11 and April 28.

“Under the pretext of treatment, unnecessary high charges were imposed on the slum dweller Petitioners. They were neither informed about 10% free of charge facility available at the Hospital nor extended any such benefits", reads the plea.

The petitioners state that the hospital had threatened to evict them if they did not pay up the bill raised, which came up to over Rs 10.6 lakhs.

Being aware of how difficult it is to get admission into hospitals and that patients were dying on the streets, the petitioners submit that they paid the fee raised.

The fear of the petitioners were commercialised, the plea states, adding that the petitioners were forced to beg for a personal loan to pay the medical bills.

However, after discharge, it is stated that the petitioners came to know that the medicines given by the hospital were available at a very cheap cost. Most of the charges were levied citing the doctor's visits and the provision of protective gear.

Similar medication was available at the Government hospitals at at 1/10 of the charge, the petitioners state. It is also added while 10% of the hospital's facilties are to be given free of cost to poorer sections, no such benefit was extended to the petitioners.

The Court was further informed that while the petitioners were charged for the services of an aneasthetist doctor, no such doctor had served them.

“Exorbitant charges have been used as tool to extract money from the poor slum dwellers by the above-said hospital to make a fortune out of miseries in the hour of national crisis", it has been contended.

The Court has now asked the hospital in question to file a reply within a week detailing,

  • whether there were any beds available at the hospital under 10% quota for economically weaker sections;

  • whether similar charges at the same rates were recovered from other patients also who were admitted for the treatment of COVID-19.

The prayers made by the petitioners include those for

  • a refund of the excess fee levied on them,

  • a direction that private/ corporate hospitals provide data on beds, medicinal facilities and charges online,

  • a plea for action against the KJ Somaiya Hospital and Research Centre for levying the exorbitant fees on the petitioners, and

  • regulation of the fee for treatment in private/ corporate hospitals.

The petition was filed through Advocate Vivek Shukla after a legal notice sent to the hospital is stated to have yielded no response.

The matter will be taken up next on June 23.

Read the order:

Abdul Shoeb Shaikh and ors. v. State of Maharashtra and ors - June 12 order.pdf
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